Pelosi says House healthcare bill will nix insurance exemption

Legislation ending the antitrust exemption for health insurance companies will be included in the House healthcare bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

"It will include the Leahy amendment which is eliminating the exemption of health insurance companies … from antitrust law," Pelosi said, referring to a Senate provision authored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

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Supporters of the legislation say that while lawmakers try to instill competition in healthcare markets, they should also make price-fixing illegal.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the House version of Leahy's legislation Wednesday on a 20-9 vote that included three Republicans.

The health insurance industry angered many Democrats earlier this month when its trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), issued a report saying some provisions of the Senate Finance Committee’s healthcare bill would raise premiums. Critics said the study excluded provisions that would lower premiums.

But supporters say the antitrust push has nothing to do with anger at the report or the industry.

AHIP has told lawmakers that the drive to end the 64-year-old exemption is a distraction, because the law does not prevent the application of antitrust laws. Instead, AHIP President Karen Ignani has written to lawmakers that it simply recognizes that states play a central role in regulating insurance.

“Health insurance is one of the most significantly regulated areas of the economy,” Ignani wrote.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) is working with her leadership team to find 218 votes among Democrats for a public health insurance option based on Medicare. If she can do that this week, she is expected to roll out the bill early next week and push for a vote in the first week of November.